There's no magic in retirement: It's mainly a reflection of your saving habits.

The idea is to save habitually and enough — some say, 12 percent to 17 percent of your paycheck — beginning early in the working years, in order to maintain a lifestyle you want in retirement.

But how to weather a bear market when you're approaching the day you walk out of the office for good?

Create a plan. Check to see if your current retirement assets will cover anticipated living expenses, assuming a conservative rate of return and keeping in mind inflation averages about 3 percent a year, said Alan Tingey, principal at Cannon Tingey Investment Advisors in Midvale.

A safe nest-egg withdrawal rate ranges from 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent a year, said fee-only financial adviser Denise Smith, with Financial Planning Office in Salt Lake City.

A $400,000 nest egg, at a 4 percent withdrawal rate, will give you $16,000 a year, for example, said Jeff Salisbury, principal at Independent 401K Advisors, a fee-only advisory firm with offices in Cache and Davis counties.

Diversify. "You want to design a portfolio you can stay with during the ups and the downs," Smith said. If you go to bed tonight and wake up and the market has dropped 15 percent, would that make you so nervous you would want to pull out? If so, that portfolio's ratio of stocks to bonds is probably too aggressive, she said.

Contribute regularly. A retirement investment portfolio is long term, and saving for it is a long-term project, as well. Dollar-cost averaging, where you gradually put money into securities over time, with each paycheck, keeps you ahead of the game, Salisbury said. When the market is down, you're buying stocks on the cheap. And when the market comes back, those shares will quickly inflate.

Stay the course. The average investor typically buys before a correction and wants to sell right before the market turns around, said Zan Hughes, branch manager for Fidelity Investments in Salt Lake City. Bad move.

Say the market dropped 3 percent yesterday, Salisbury said. You pulled your money out. Today, it runs up 5 percent. Now, you're on the sidelines, wondering when to get back into the game. And you may have missed some of the most productive days of the market cycle.

Eliminate debt. Strive to be debt-free by the time you retire so that your money works for you, said Sharla Jessop, vice president of Smedley Financial. "Pay off credit cards, mortgages, and be careful at making major purchases at retirement," she said.

Keep a cash reserve. When you retire, consider withdrawing living expenses for the next two to three years — no more than 4.5 percent to 5.5 percent of your nest egg per year, Smith says. Jessop suggests placing that money in a separate account less exposed to market volatility. Consider laddered CDs, money-market funds or short-term bonds.

"You're not going to get much return in that kind of investment," Smith said. "But you're going to have security in the next two years and some peace of mind." That security, she added, will help give you the discipline to not make any sudden or rash moves with your stock portfolio.

Annuities. Consider putting 25 percent of your portfolio in a fixed immediate annuity, Smith said. That's where you turn money over to an insurance company that will periodically pay you throughout your lifetime.

Tingey cautions against trying to lock in long-term guaranteed returns when interest rates are low, however. "For example, a 5 percent guaranteed annuity contract today may sound attractive, but it could become troublesome in two years if the economy recovers, inflation heats up and interest rates are materially higher," he said.

Long-term care insurance: You can protect assets by considering a purchase of long-term care insurance, Smith said. That's insurance that pays you if you go into a nursing home or assisted living or need home health care.

Other tips are available in the publication, "Utah's Resource Guide For Lifetime Financial Security, Take Charge of Your Future Now!" You can obtain a complimentary copy by calling Gail Goodwin at the AARP Utah office, 866-448-3616. AARP Utah also offers retirement presentations for business, civic, religious and social groups. People can schedule those presentations by calling Goodwin.


E-mail: jtcook@desnews.com